Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dancing Fish and Ammonites-Penelope Lively

Dancing Fish and Ammonites-Penelope Lively

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 240
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2015

A memoir in four parts in which Lively explores aging, memory, writing, and what objects can tell us about ourselves.

I've admittedly not read any of Lively's books but if they're anything like her memoir I have many happy times ahead. Lively is clearly a well-read and thoughtful person who blends her own anecdotes with things she's read, things she's learned, and the people she's known to create fascinating, occasionally meandering, explorations of what memory gives us and what age provides for us. She writes beautifully, elegantly, and her arguments are compelling and convincing in a way that I'd never be able to portray in a review. Even though I am not even remotely near Lively's age, her musings on old age were fascinating even as I recognized nothing of myself. I didn't need to. As an archaeologist, I found a lot to contemplate and especially delighted in her last section which details the provenance of six objects in her life and why they have been collected and what they say about her. I ended up feeling like here is a lady I'd like to invite over for a coffee and then I'd bring her to work with me and she'd have such interesting ways to approach the archaeological ceramics I spend my life trying to connect to people. This is a sign of a good book, I want to interact some more with Lively and know more.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution- Edited by Matthew Cassel & Layla Al-Zubaidi

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution- Edited by Matthew Cassel & Layla Al-Zubaidi

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 224
gender: M & F
nationality: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria
year: 2014
essay collection

READ THIS. If you are at all interested in the Near East and the events of 'Arab Spring', this really should be on your reading list. It is not yet dated, I assure you. No matter your own feelings about the results of the various revolutions (i.e. whether you blame them for the destabilization of the region or whether you forgot about them), this is integral for any sympathetic understanding of the region. This a collection of their own stories written from the moment. The young and the progressives of societies too often depicted as uniformly either conservative or suffering are translated into English in this book. It is heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring to read of the various tribulations and their strong insistence that things can get better. You do need to know some of the context of the individual countries but most of the writers, conscious that they are writing for non-Arab audiences, give you a brief history though some of the writers do seem to be slightly more self-centered than others. What this book most succeeds at is presenting history and events as complex events while also giving you ways to emotionally connect. This is not an academic text where all of the catalysts are set out and defined and analyzed but rather the type of information you'd get from your friends and the short conversation you had with the baker while waiting for your coffee. As such, while there is fact here, it is fact thrown through the lens of people themselves. Compelling doesn't begin to describe it.

Good bye 2015! Hello 2016!

In 2015, I read 127 (as opposed to 146 and 110) books but many were very long giving me an average of 327 pages per book. I am still quite reliant on galleys so 2010 was still heavy but I did discover elending so I have a better chronological spread. The gender balance is quite equal which actually makes me a little sad-perhaps I shall hand in my feminist membership card. However, 23% of the authors from USA and UK were people of color which is definitely a happier situation for me. I visited 29 countries and read 16% in translation so I'm also getting more varied in that way-slowly but surely? Though there is a terrifying lack of anything in Latin America-something that will definitely need to be rectified in 2016! Anyhow, most excitingly I did so stupendously better at finishing non fiction! 19% and no archaeological books are counted in that! Wow.

Not At All in Order-Best Books of 2015:
The Devil's Detective-Simon Kurt Unsworth
Raven's Head-Karen Maitland
Who Fears Death- Nnedi Okorafor
Young Babylon-Lu Nei
I Am Radar-Reif Larsen
Annihilation-Jeff Vandermeer
Uprooted-Naomi Novik
Ties that Bind-Sarah Schulman
Complications-Atul Gawande
Etta and Otto and Russell and James-Emma Hooper

hardest to read: This Life-Karel Schoeman and Cancer Ward-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were endurance trials